The Great Pyramids
Located on the west bank of the Nile River on the outskirts
of Cairo, the pyramids at Giza, Egypt, rank as some of the best-known
monuments in the world. The ancient Egyptians constructed the pyramids to
serve as royal tombs. Built without the use of cranes, pulleys, or lifting
tackle, the massive structures stand as testaments to the engineering skills
of their makers.
More About Pyramids : Introduction : What is Pyramid : How to built Pyramid : History : Khufu Pyramid : Photo Gallery
Egyptian Mummy The ancient Egyptians used pyramids as the final resting places for their monarchs. Before entombing the deceased, the Egyptians mummified the body, performing certain rituals and wrapping the body in linen. This image shows an example of a mummy.C. Canet/Liaison Agency
Egyptian pyramids served as tombs for kings and queens, but they were also places of on going religious activity. After a ruler died, his or her body was carefully treated and wrapped to preserve it as a mummy. According to ancient Egyptian belief, the pyramid, where the mummy was placed, provided a place for the monarch to pass into the afterlife. In temples nearby, priests performed rituals to nourish the dead monarch’s spirit, which was believed to stay with the body after death. In the Old Kingdom (a period of Egyptian history from about 2575 bc to about 2134 bc), Egyptian artists carved hieroglyphs on the walls of the burial chamber, designed to safeguard the dead monarch’s passage into the afterlife. These hieroglyphic writings, which include hymns, magical spells, instructions on how to act in front of the gods, and other pieces of useful knowledge, are known as the Pyramid Texts.
This National Geographic article examines some of the new theories archaeologists have developed about Egyptian civilization during the period of history called the Old Kingdom. Their findings are based on excavations near the Egyptian pyramids. Although reliable dates are available for later periods, dates cited for events during the Old Kingdom remain rough estimates. Also note that English spellings are used for some Egyptian words in this article. During the Old Kingdom, the Egyptians built their largest and most ambitious pyramids, typically of large stone blocks. Over time, the size and quality of the pyramids decreased, probably because they were extremely costly. In the Middle Kingdom (2040 bc-1640 bc), the Egyptians built pyramids mostly of mud brick. All pyramids were aligned to the cardinal directions, meaning that their sides ran almost exactly due north-south and east-west. Most pyramids rose from desert plateaus on the west bank of the Nile River, behind which the sun set. The Egyptians believed that a dead monarch’s spirit left the body and traveled through the sky with the sun each day. When the sun set in the west, the royal spirits settled into their pyramid tombs to renew themselves.
The internal layout of pyramids changed over time, but the entrance was typically in the center of the north face. From here a passage ran downward, sometimes leveling out, to the king’s burial chamber, which ideally was located directly underneath the pyramid’s center point. Sometimes, in addition to the burial chamber, there were storage chambers within the pyramid. These chambers held objects used in burial rituals as well as items for the deceased to use in the afterlife. Some of these items were valuable, and in later years people robbed many of the pyramids and stole the objects.
Pyramid of Khafre at Giza The pyramids at Giza in Egypt are among the best-known pieces of architecture in the world. The Pyramid of Khafre was built as the final resting place of the pharaoh Khafre and is about 136 m (446 ft) high.Giraudon/Bridgeman Art Library, London/New York
A pyramid never stood alone in the desert. Instead, it was the focus of a complex of temples and smaller pyramids. Priests and officials entered a typical pyramid complex through a temple near a harbor connected to the Nile by a system of canals. This so-called valley temple was linked to the pyramid by a long, covered walkway, known as a causeway. The causeway ran up from the valley through the desert to another temple, called a pyramid temple or mortuary temple. This temple was connected to the pyramid at the center of its eastern face. Most pyramid complexes had satellite pyramids and queens’ pyramids. The satellite pyramids were too small to serve as burial places, and their purpose remains mysterious. They may have contained statues representing the king’s ka, an aspect of his spirit. The queens’ pyramids were simpler, smaller versions of the kings’, sometimes with small temples all their own. They were intended for the burial of a king’s principal wives.
More About Pyramid : Introduction : What is Pyramid :How to built Pyramid : Pyramid History : Khufu's Great Pyramid : Photo Gallery